TINA MARTIN: In the 2020 election, everyone knew Wisconsin would be a key swing state.
MELODY MCCURTIS: You registered to vote?
Did you do your absentee ballot?
MARTIN: These women wanted to be sure their community voted.
DANELL CROSS: Black communities have always had to fight for the right to vote.
But I never seen nothing like this in my life.
MARTIN: After all their hard work, they worried: would people show up?
- Guess who's all ready with her ballot?
MARTIN: "Metcalfe Park: Black Vote Rising," on Local, U.S.A. ♪ MCCURTIS: All right, we're rolling.
All right, y'all don't need me to do this, but first off, thank y'all for staying committed.
A lot of y'all have been with us all the way back to March, when we started this thing.
We're just gonna tell people, "Hey, we're with Metcalfe Park.
We just dropped off the care package."
All right, y'all ready?
- (louder): Y'all ready?
VOLUNTEERS (louder): Yeah!
MCCURTIS: Let's have fun!
♪ MCCURTIS: Hey, how you doing?
(indistinct chatter) Who need boxes?
MCCURTIS: I really want Black people to be free.
♪ And that's why we've been advocating for folks to vote, because voting is power.
And what we're up against, trying to outmaneuver the systematic racism in Milwaukee, this is the hardest thing I've ever had to do.
♪ Hey, how you doing?
WOMAN: Fine, and you?
- All right, we're just dropping off some more food.
We got information about voting and census in there that's super-important... MCCURTIS: My name is Melody McCurtis.
I am the deputy director at Metcalfe Park Community Bridges.
Metcalfe Park Community Bridges is a resident-led neighborhood group.
- Okay, so...
So we call this the free little grocery store.
(shelves creaking) Ooh, ooh, that's not stable.
CROSS: For people in poverty, service is not provided oftentime in a respectful way.
It's really important to me for my community to have a place to go, where you leave with your head lifting up.
MCCURTIS: When COVID first happened, our families in Metcalfe Park didn't have food.
They didn't have hygiene products.
They didn't have cleaning supplies.
The city, the county, the state, they didn't do anything for our families.
You know, Metcalfe Park Community Bridges had to create a whole system to make sure our people had what they need.
♪ (through megaphone): Hey, how you doing?
Make sure you look at that packet, there's some information about voting and the census in there.
And call us if you need some additional support.
You registered to vote?
WOMAN: Yeah... Yeah.
MCCURTIS: Did you do your absentee ballot?
MCCURTIS: You know, you can get the ballot, you can drop it off at the early voting sites.
How long have you been living here?
CROSS: I would have hired Melody regardless of who she was, because she loves my people.
She cares about them.
- Hey, Ms. Osflera, how you doing?
You looking good-- that pink is popping.
What's up, Tonia?
- She happens to be my daughter.
- You know how people be saying, they say, "I get it from my mama."
- (laughs) That makes me want to dance.
♪ I get it from my mama - Don't do that on camera.
MCCURTIS: We moved to Metcalfe Park when I was about 12.
You know, we didn't know anybody.
But the mother I had, she would drink her coffee on the porch.
She'd check in on kids.
You know, Metcalfe Park is a loving community, it's a connected community.
But Metcalfe Park is, like, 98% Black.
You see the disinvestment.
For every vacant house, you have two to three vacant lots.
♪ A lot of people migrated here when we had that 30th Street corridor that had all of these different jobs.
And those jobs aren't there anymore.
We have officials that are not advocating for the right jobs to come in.
We have officials saying, "Oh, let's open up a Family Dollar that pays eight dollars an hour."
When I vote, I'm voting to keep the officials accountable, not just for me, but for the entire community.
CAROLYN JACKSON: I vote, I vote every one.
They sends me a thing showing, giving me stars where I voted and every, you know, everything.
CROSS: That's what we do.
- Every time you don't vote, you hurting, you hurting, you hurting every-- you hurting us all.
You hurting us all... You don't, you don't vote.
That's crazy, that is crazy.
CROSS: That's right.
So tell me, how did you, when we had that April election and they shut down so many of the polls, how did you vote?
JACKSON: When I went up there about 11:00, the line was around the corner.
My neighbor actually held the place for me.
(chuckles): I ran every bit.
I ran every bit of the way, holding my phone, saying, "Betta, I'm coming, I'm coming!"
MCCURTIS: April 7, 2020, in Milwaukee, it was terrible.
NEWS ANCHOR: A legal battle in the Supreme Court forced Wisconsin to hold in-person voting today.
NEWS ANCHOR: The court ruled Governor Tony Evers could not delay Tuesday's in-person spring election.
NEWS ANCHOR: Speaker Vos believes the process across the state is going smoothly.
ROBIN VOS: I am very confident that people are going to look back at this election and say that it went off as well as it possibly could.
♪ MCCURTIS: I remember requesting my absentee ballot on March 23.
My ballot never came.
COVID was spiking.
The line was so long, it took up the whole block.
Everybody don't have on a mask.
People were not six feet apart.
So, now I had to really choose my health over exercising my right to vote.
CROSS: I was really angry, but the other thing I was was afraid, and that's what I'm mad about.
MCCURTIS: Danell has high blood pressure.
She has an enlarged heart.
And if, God forbid, Danell didn't make it because of this, I can't even describe how I would feel if that happened.
So that's why I agreed to be a part of the lawsuit.
JAY URBAN: There's not been one action in Wisconsin in the last decade taken to make voting easier.
If we were a nation committed to justice and laws, we would do everything we could to make voting easier.
And in a pandemic, we should be doing everything we could to make it safer.
We brought a lawsuit under the A.D.A., Americans with Disabilities Act, to provide for every vote to be counted safely.
Because there's some statistics that say that nine percent of all voters were disenfranchised in April because of the voting and the pandemic, and that the figure is greater for communities of color.
- COVID has exposed all of this stuff, but these problems have happened historically throughout Milwaukee.
It has always been there.
CROSS: Black communities have always had to fight for the right to vote, but I never seen nothing like this in my life.
MCCURTIS: We wanted to stop by today to talk about voting.
WOMAN: I'm trying to stay as safe as possible.
MCCURTIS: I know, that's right.
CROSS: I know.
MCCURTIS: Do you need a safety voting kit?
We'll be giving those out.
WOMAN: Thank you!
MCCURTIS: Thank you.
I'll see you soon, okay?
MCCURTIS: Our communities, they said that they're not online, right?
So all of these messages that was online, our community wasn't getting that information.
That's when we got Jordan on board, and she's, like, "Hey, we're going to make these resource guides, we're gonna bring digital to them."
You know, the, the unique thing about Metcalfe Park Community Bridges is that, you know, majority of staff comes from Metcalfe Park or they still live in Metcalfe Park.
Each house get, each house get this.
MCCURTIS: I think community to us is that we all need each other.
Y'all got this!
When y'all go in there, put it nice and neat in the corner.
It's them circle-looking things that's not a key.
I remember, when I was coming up, my aunties used to pay us, like, five dollars to, like, do this backbreaking stuff.
And I told myself that I would never be like that.
Okay, y'all, the couches go in the living room.
CROSS: Melody is moving into her own apartment today.
I think this is going to be really good for, for both of us.
We work together, live together.
It's going to be healthy for us to have some, some distance.
- I don't know why she acting like she want me to move out, though-- this is the funny part.
CROSS: Well, for one thing, you got too much furniture.
- No, I don't.
CROSS: It's hard for me to remodel the house with all this stuff in it.
- That house, I'm fitting to move out with nothing, basically.
♪ I'm happy to be moving, 'cause me and Moms will be in here, like, 12:00 at night.
Next thing you know, we working on something for work.
CROSS: And not just that, we kind of a lot alike, so our temperaments are alike, too.
Right, so what we worked on today is mutual aid and safety coordinator and... MCCURTIS: Wait, what?
I don't like that name.
CROSS: This is the name that I'm using so that I can... - I hate your name.
CROSS: We'll fix the name... CROSS: One time, I fired her.
(laughs) I had to, I had to.
I went on her Facebook page and I seen some unappropriate young people stuff.
I did a lot of illegal things, for a long, long time.
At 17, I started selling drugs.
I end up having Maria at 18.
I was working at Metcalfe Park Community Bridges part-time.
The pay I was getting, it was super-low.
So I still was, was doing those other activities.
Not because I wanted to, it's because I had to.
- And I said, you represent Metcalfe Park, and you have to represent us in a, in a certain way.
- The only reason I got hired back is because my community's, like, "You gotta hire Melody back," you know?
And I really organized the community to be, like, y'all gotta fight for my job.
- The other residents kept saying, "When you gonna bring her back?
When you gonna bring her back?
", and I said, "Well, she got to learn first, she got to learn first."
MCCURTIS: I started changing, you know, the stuff that I was doing.
CROSS: The reason that we kept trying is because she's really good at what she does.
I'm really good at what I do.
And it's a good team.
♪ (indistinct chatter) MCCURTIS: What really informs my work is that I don't lose sight of where I come from.
All of these different challenges of poverty and systematic racism I know firsthand.
- All right, you need to register?
MCCURTIS: Um, I'm already registered.
(clears throat): I need to update my address.
- Well, then, you have to re-register.
- Are you a citizen of the United States?
- Are you serving any kind of sentence for a felony?
MCCURTIS: I moved two blocks away.
I'm in the same district.
I tried to register to vote online.
They asked me, did I have an I.D.?
No, I don't have a updated I.D.
with my new address.
- Just have to do one more thing to check your address.
MCCURTIS: There's so many different obstacles that you got to go through to vote.
Having a, a voter I.D., Navigating folks on how to find their voting location...
The disinformation for felons, right?
I mean, we're talking about gerrymandering.
People in the Black community, we aren't able to rest.
Y'all want cereal?
- Ándale, ándale.
RIDDICK: I'm never going to do school.
MCCURTIS: Why don't y'all like online school?
MARIA: He falls asleep during class.
- I hate it, too.
But, um, we gotta, we gotta do it.
(Riddick laughing) MCCURTIS: Right now, I'm really failing balancing this work, being a mom, and this virtual school.
Um, I haven't figured it out.
Maria, you said, you said he spilled water.
Which one did he spill water in?
MARIA: I don't know.
- Riddick, I think you broke this computer last night.
(Riddick murmurs) MCCURTIS: It's hard to know that you're failing your kids.
But then again, our school's closed with no plans for parents.
It's just unrealistic.
Get off my couch!
(kids laughing) Come on, come on, come on, you wanna fight?
Come on, come on, come on... You know I know karate, Riddick.
- So corny.
MCCURTIS: I just got to keep getting up and surviving every day.
(speaks indistinctly) Hi-ya!
FELICIA WILKINS: Guess who's all ready with her ballot?
(laughter) Going to the box today!
- How do you feel about the ballot box?
- I have had some pushback from several people who I've told about the boxes, about them not knowing if they're safe, if the ballots are actually going where they're supposed to go.
MIELA FETAW: Do you, do you trust the voting system?
- (breathes deeply) To a point.
- I don't trust it because of the way the system is being processed right now, and the way that they got the scandals going and everything, you're just, one thing after another.
One thing after another.
- It look like it's so much confusion, is it this-- Trump talking about they gonna, they throwing away the things.
And so that's the reason I'm going to go, I'm going to go in person.
If I can walk, I'm gonna go.
MCCURTIS: Black folks is real skeptical right now.
So we got people worried about, you know, their absentee ballots going into that drop-off box.
Because of Trump, all of the things that he's saying, like, "We're going to have people there, we're gonna, we're gonna... We gonna win this election by any means necessary."
So our community is saying, "If I put it in there, how do I know people won't go in there and take it out?"
DONALD TRUMP: Thousands of votes are gathered and they come in and they're dumped in a location.
And then all of a sudden, you lose elections if you think you're going to win.
I won't stand for it.
- They're sending a message that they don't want certain votes to be cast.
They don't want certain votes to be counted.
So we deposed the Republicans to find out what evidence did they have of any type of voter fraud.
We asked that question to the head of the Republican Party in the State of Wisconsin: "Tell us how there can be fraud.
What evidence do you have of fraud in mail-in ballots?"
And he said, "None."
- There was a lot of misinformation, miseducation, scare tactics, and unfortunately, with some folks, it's working.
DESTINY: I don't believe in voting.
I feel like the higher-ups, they going pick the president.
CROSS: That's the way you feel about it?
CROSS: You voted the last time, even though you didn't want to, remember?
So why you can't push yourself this time to vote?
- I just don't really care for him.
CROSS: But you care about us, though.
You care about the community, right?
DESTINY: Our votes don't count.
That's what I feel, that's my personal... CROSS: You know it's not just the president that's running.
- It's about other people, our ballot... CROSS: Our neighborhood.
So I'm going to call you.
So, you going to vote?
- (sighing): Yeah, I might.
CROSS: (groans): Okay.
So answer my phone call when I call.
DESTINY: I might.
CROSS: Or else I'm going to do another drive-by.
CROSS: When I went to talk to Destiny, I was really shook up, because she was so angry and disillusioned.
And, and so I... That, that affected me on a personal level.
But the work to change the outcomes for people in our community, it's going to take some sacrifices and suffering.
MCCURTIS: This is the house.
CROSS: Yeah, this is my house.
- This was our house in Metcalfe Park.
- If you look right here, you can still see the start of the steps.
CROSS: When I moved in, the first thing I started doing was planting flowers in the yard, and so right up in here, all of this was flowers.
All the way up.
I want to see if the tree is still here that I planted.
We had been doing a, a block clean-up.
Now, I don't know if it was because we were cleaning up with the police, but after we went to bed, somebody threw a cocktail bomb through the window.
♪ When I heard this bang, I kind of froze.
My son said, "Mama, we got to get out of here."
And I said, "Wait, wait, wait, wait, wait."
And he said, "We gotta get outta here."
We went to the front and watched the house burn down.
I'm out there, and I remember one of my neighbors saying, "You can't leave."
People brought me furniture, food.
I'll never forget the community coming out like that.
A couple of days later, I went back on the block and I just stood in the middle of the street and hollered, saying, "I'm not going nowhere."
"I'm going to still be here.
I'm not going nowhere."
♪ NEWS ANCHOR: Yesterday, Wisconsin reported its largest one-day increase in new cases.
MAN: What are these?
MCCURTIS: Safety voting kits.
NEWS ANCHOR: There've been record-high hospitalizations in the Midwest.
NEWS ANCHOR: Cases are surging.
One of the biggest surges in the country.
NEWS ANCHOR: Another record-setting amount of coronavirus cases... COVID isn't going away.
It's getting bigger and bigger, bolder and bolder.
But we, we don't give up.
CROSS: Now is y'all time.
This is your country-- don't forget it.
This country belongs to you.
We're here to vote.
(crowd cheering) WILKINS: They tried to not send me my ballot in the mail, but I'm still here voting.
MCCURTIS: They had us waiting in lines in the cold, but still we vote.
(crowd agreeing) Yeah, they're trying to kill us with the COVID, but still we vote.
GROUP: Metcalfe Park!
MCCURTIS: Who vote?
GROUP: Metcalfe Park.
MCCURTIS: We voting early, yeah!
We voting early, yeah!
We voting early, yeah!
We voting early!
CROSS: We've worked so hard for our community to be able to participate in something so important.
But I'm concerned, truthfully, about after the election.
I'm concerned about violence.
- Uh... (sighs) ♪ It's time for a change CROSS: ♪ Why don't you try voting?
- ♪ It's time for a change - ♪ Get out here and vote GROUP: ♪ It's time for a change ♪ Why don't you try voting?
♪ It's time for a change NEWS ANCHOR: The Wisconsin Elections Commission reporting a smooth election day across the state, crediting all of the preparations that went into this day.
NEWS ANCHOR: Initially, it looked like the state was in the column for President Trump, but then Milwaukee, those votes started to come in, and it started to push things ahead for Biden.
NEWS ANCHOR: Close to 3.3 million... NEWS ANCHOR: The total votes cast in 2020 is the most ever in Wisconsin.
The Wisconsin Elections Commission won't start getting official results until next week.
♪ MCCURTIS: One of the things that we're telling our community is that, you know, elections is over, but the work has to continue.
MAN (in video): The Finance and Personnel Committee refers to the communication from the mayor relating to the proposed 2021 budget, followed by those... MCCURTIS: Milwaukee just had a city budget hearings.
Right now, I'm texting 6,500 folks just letting them know that they have the opportunity for their voices to be heard and their ideas brought to the table.
If an official said that they believe in universal healthcare, right, or housing for all, you know, how are you implementing that?
And that's what accountability looks like in Metcalfe Park.
(kids talking) MCCURTIS: All right.
Teamwork to make the dream work.
Close your eyes.
All right, you ready?
MARIA: One, two, three, go!
MAN: Oh, my God.
RIDDICK (exclaims): I knew it!
MCCURTIS: Okay, back up, back up.
We're going to eat this later.
MCCURTIS: This year has been brutal professionally and personally.
So I actually forgot that Maria's birthday was today.
I didn't forget about her birthday.
I just thought that her birthday was next week.
I am beyond exhausted.
WOMAN (on computer): Good afternoon, everyone, my name is... - Hey, I'm doing, like, four things at once.
Don't mind me, I haven't read your email yet.
(computer chimes) WOMAN: Think of a place where families can commune... MCCURTIS: Come on, Maria.
WOMAN: ...revitalization, because it is the first... CROSS: Melody is so much like me, I can't stand it.
- You see Mama Cross on there?
You see her on there?
CROSS: I always felt like I was the strong one, had to be the strong one.
I see that in my daughter.
I'm looking at my daughter with the weight of Metcalfe Park on her shoulders, and I worry as a mother.
Who all do you let take care of you while you're taking care of everybody else?
And that's when I call in community.
- (cheering) Happy birthday, Maria!
Say hey, Maria!
My friend Nora.
- Hi, happy birthday!
- Oh, my goodness!
(car horn honking) MCCURTIS: Hey!
You're supposed to dance, Maria!
(honking continues, kids chattering) - Okay!
MCCURTIS: I mean, I feel, I feel accomplished.
I feel like I really accomplished some, some mother stuff.
You know, which is really hard to do in 2020.
ALL: ♪ Happy birthday, dear Maria MCCURTIS: So I'm going to toast to that.
I'm going to toast to that.
(cheering) Are you happy?
MCCURTIS: All right.
(kids chattering distantly) ♪ MCCURTIS: ♪ Woke up this morning ♪ With my mind ♪ Stayed on freedom ♪ Woke up this morning with my mind ♪ ♪ Stayed on freedom ♪ With my mind stayed on freedom ♪ ♪